World-Class American Wineries: Jordan Winery

By Denman Moody-

While I was travel aide to Lloyd Bentsen in 1970 – and later his executive assistant in Washington – Tom Jordan, who is just a smidgen older than I, was already a mega-successful oil man in Denver with the idea of purchasing a great Bordeaux chateau.  A taste of the 1968 Beaulieu Vineyard (B.V.) Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve at a restaurant in San Francisco set him on a new path.

Eschewing the more popular Napa Valley, Jordan, a geologist, found exactly what he was looking for near Healdsburg in the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County.  There he purchased a 275-acre prune orchard and hired the winemaker at B.V., the unrivaled Andre Tchelistcheff as wine consultant, with a very young winemaker named Rob Davis, who is still at Jordan.

On November 28, 1979, shortly after the gorgeous, absolutely first-class chateau and winery was built, my wife and I enjoyed dinner there with Tom and his wife Sally, tasting the 1976 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon from the bottle and the 1977 and 1978 from the barrel.  I wrote, at that time, that the 1976 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon was the best Cabernet produced in California in its price range.

I proceeded to serve it in Houston to several hundred people privately and at large French vs. California dinners and was successful in changing the minds of almost everyone, most of whom had no idea California wines could be that good.  As good as the 1976 was, the 1978 turned out even better after it was bottled.  And Jordan added a Chardonnay in 1980, which, since 2000, has carried the impressive Russian River Valley designation.

Jordan Winery Chateau at Healdsburg in the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County.

Tom remained in the oil business with an office in Healdsburg and ran the business side of the operation, while Sally, an effervescent, coruscating jewel, was in charge of hospitality.  Each succeeded beyond the wildest expectations of anyone but themselves.  The elegant, Burgundy-style Chardonnay is underpriced at $35, and the Chateau Margaux-like or sometimes Saint-Julien-look-alike Cabernet could bring $75 to $100, but it has held at around $55.  And in fact, the Cabernet has been listed for over 15 years as one of the top two to five Cabernets served in the best restaurants around the country.

About 10 years ago, Tom turned over the operation to his son John, who has literally exceeded all expectations except possibly his own.  He has elevated what was considered perfect to “most perfect.”  He has recently implemented an Estate Tour, which is now over 1,200 unrivaled acres and can be traversed in a Mercedes bus/limo for six couples, along with wine and snacks prepared daily by the Jordan chef.  This is the premier estate tour in California.  It is $125 each and is from May 2nd to the end of October every year.  Reservations far in advance are necessary.

More than 75% of the estate is dedicated to natural habitat, with ducks and geese in and around the lakes and rabbits, deer, turkeys and even an occasional glimpse of a fox or coyote.  Jordan has become a working ranch under John with cattle, bees for honey and gardens for flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables.

After exploring the property, including 110 acres of vineyards, and getting a short lesson on gardening and viticulture, as well as sipping two vintages of Chardonnay with snacks, the final stop is at an all-glass gazebo.  The gazebo seats about 15 at a beautiful table for a taste of two vintages of Cabernet with more snacks, while viewing an indescribable, never-to-be-forgotten 360 degree spectacle from the highest site on the property.

If you ever want to join a winery club, this is it.  Once you’ve purchased $500 in tastings, event tickets and wines from the winery, you become a silver member. To explore the possibilities for silver and higher members, visit